Before World of Warcraft, the orcs-versus-humans franchise got its start on the PC with a series of popular strategy games. Today, Activision Blizzard has announced a simplified mobile version inspired by the minions-in-lanes gameplay of Clash Royale and other hit smartphone games — and soon you’ll be able to try it out for yourself. Fans can pre-register now for the upcoming closed beta on the Google Play Store, with pre-registration coming soon to Apple’s App Store.
Warcraft Arclight Rumble puts its own spin on mobile real-time strategy, or RTS, genre with heroes, minions and locations from the famed franchise: You can drop the powerful Jaina Proudmoore down lanes with some Alliance footmen to take on the huge gnoll Hogger, a notorious character from World of Warcraft who features as the boss of one of the mobile game’s maps.
Like Clash Royale, the game is split into short matches wherein players drop minions down one of two or more “lanes” to automatically move forward and fight enemies. The goal is to kill the boss or structure at the top of the map while defending your own base, though there are towers and spawn points to complicate matches. Winning matches grants players experience for units, which get stronger as they level up, as well as in-game currency to buy more units, spells and powerful leader characters.
Since it’s played on a phone, Arclight Rumble starts players at the bottom of every map, with the action flowing upward. With few exceptions, maps are the width of a smartphone screen, and players can easily scroll up and down to track how their minions are doing and to defend against enemies. Unit control and map complexity have been very limited to fit the Warcraft experience onto a phone, but the game is streamlined enough to be playable with one hand.
“Traditional RTS games on the PC haven’t ported well to console, and a lot of that is [due to] the control scheme,” game director for Warcraft Arclight Rumble Tom Chilton told CNET. “Our philosophy was to make the maps big enough to where the player can mentally keep track of what’s going on off-screen and [scroll] there very quickly.”
The game is divided between a single-player story campaign and player-versus-player matches. All the maps are diverse, but the PvP ones are symmetrical to not give either side an advantage. The story maps are more dynamic and are generally themed after bosses and areas: One set on a beach features an Ogre Juggernaut naval battleship that rains cannonballs on the player’s units, while another pits players against an undead scientist that periodically resurrects the gruesome abomination Stitches to rampage toward the player.
Like the card game Hearthstone set in the Warcraft universe, Arclight Rampage is a lighthearted riff on the franchise with an even cartoonier style than the original games. Among the around 60 units in the game at launch are old favorites like squads of orc grunts, dwarven gryphon riders and undead necromancers, all with unique abilities — and vocal barks when summoned on the battlefield.
And like Hearthstone, Arclight Rampage is a free-to-play game with in-game monetization that lends a bit of an advantage to players who can buy the whole roster of units (at least as the game is currently set up). This might grate on fans who have waited years for Blizzard to release a new full-scale Warcraft strategy game for PC, but is a simplified version enough for players who want to enjoy on the go?
Warcraft Arclight Rumble: strategy fun in your pocket
After playing one of the final alpha builds of Arclight Rumble for a week, I have a good idea of who this game is for and who might be better off skipping it entirely. A caveat: Things are subject to change, including monetization and unit balance, but overall, it’s an admirable attempt at cramming Warcraft into a mobile experience.
Arclight Rumble scratches a very similar itch as the Apple Arcade game Lego Star Wars Battles: Both are lane-based strategy games where a lot of the thrill lies in dropping characters onto the battlefield that you’ve loved for decades, which feels very much like an adult version of battling action figures on the playground.
But Arclight Rumble is respectably deep, with rock-paper-scissors mechanics and variation in units enough to give strategy fans lots of room to customize their playstyle. Players pick one leader and six units to take into battle along with a free miner unit, and once the battle starts, can pick from a revolving set of four units to play at a time. Units have different strengths and cost different amounts of gold, a constantly replenishing in-match currency, allowing players to switch out their lineup to face different story bosses or players in PvP.
Unlike Clash Royale or Star Wars Battles, Arclight Rumble has a lengthy story campaign, in which players progress through map challenges set in familiar parts of the Azeroth and Kalimdor continents from World of Warcraft. Chilton expected players to take three to five months to finish all the content available at launch, though focused players will be able to finish sooner: in a week of playing, I got through about a quarter of one continent.
There are rewards for replaying maps, along with special dungeons and even raids where players have to fight bosses in quick succession. And the Arclight Rumble team plans to support the game for “years to come,” according to Chilton, which will include new zones, minis to collect, raids, dungeons, and maps added.
For a free game, Warcraft Arclight Rumble seems to have enough depth for casual players to have a good time and dig in to some of the game’s roster of units and leaders, though I wish it was more generous with its free-to-play rewards. As it’s set up now, you’ll need to beat four maps to earn enough in-game currency to buy one new unit, which could be frustrating if you’re stymied by a tough map (there are a couple in the opening few zones).
The reward amounts can and probably will be changed before launch, but the game’s overall auto-battling structure can’t — so fans of old-school Warcraft’s complex base-building and unit-micromanaging gameplay might want to steer clear.
Fortunately, Blizzard seems to have learned from announcing the mobile Diablo Immortal years before it became playable. Warcraft Arclight Rumble, which started development in 2017, was announced today and will be entering open beta “soon.” That could mean months, not years, before players get to pick it up for themselves.
Regardless, Arclight Rumble is coming out at a troubled time for Activision Blizzard. California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a suit against the company last summer, accusing the company of fostering a workplace of discrimination and sexual harassment against women, which was followed by pressure for the company’s CEO Bobby Kotick to resign and a lawsuit by the family of a Blizzard employee who committed suicide. Microsoft promised to change the company’s culture after its bid to buy the gaming giant became public, which got one step closer to final after Activision Blizzard shareholders recently approved of the acquisition.
Arclight Rumble is also coming out as one of the few new Blizzard games to near completion since the original Overwatch was released in 2016. Aside from the aforementioned Diablo Immortal, which is slated to launch on mobile and PC on June 2, Overwatch 2 has finally entered public beta years after it was first teased in 2019.
So it makes sense for Blizzard to have kept Arclight Rumble close to the chest for years before an announcement and release to follow, hopefully in the coming months. While it may not please hardcore Warcraft players, fans of the franchise will find enough familiar elements and challenging play to keep them occupied on the go.